I like these albums. They were released this year. Some good albums have been released in December so-far, but they’re not on here because this is a process and December albums have jumped the queue, so-to-speak, in the past and haven’t necessarily deserved their rank upon reflection down the line. If you want to hear all the tracks I liked from albums this year, you’re in luck! Spotify has some sort of song limit for compiling songs in your library, but you can circumvent it with playlists. Therefore, I have a playlist for every year – organized by album release date.
I link the playlist because some phenomenal tracks end up on sub-par albums. I make this list because these are albums that you could comfortably leave in your car for 10 years without replacing them. I also don’t want to just release a list of albums each year, so I try to make it interesting somehow. In the past I had linked live performances of my favorite tracks, compared the albums to video games, and recommended tracks to ease you into the album. This year I had some pretty grandiose plans for creating all the album art using only HTML and CSS, but it got hard. For example, I tried posterizing albums in Photoshop to see if I could break images down into simple enough shapes that I could code some SVG graphics. So… I’m sorry to say that I this year’s list is going to be a hodge-podge of accompanying “album art.”
1. Beach Fossils – Somersault
I was convinced — convinced — that Real Estate had put out the best album in this genre this year. But after more listens, it’s undeniable that Somersault has meatier earworms. If you’re going fishing for good vibes, this album is going to reel in the better catch.
2. Queens of the Stoneage – Villains
Every track is golden. None of them stop short or get repetitive. This is a solid block of rock with zero skip-able tracks… eventually. Doing these year-end lists has made me understand, among other things, that I could not be a music critic. My first impressions don’t always hold and with an album like this I don’t always grasp the full scope of it’s excellence. You may think that this album doesn’t have many “singles,” or that no one track “stands out.” I urge you to listen again. Throw the full album in one of your playlists and throw it on shuffle. Like I said before, there are zero skip-able tracks.
3. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
I once went to an ABBA sing-along at The Alamo Drafthouse and the MC pointed out that all their songs were about how bad their marriages were. It was a glass-shattering moment; these upbeat songs took on a new meaning — no, a new reality because the meaning had always been there. Similarly, I knew nothing about Jen Cloher — even after listening to the album. I knew that I liked it, but it wasn’t until I did some idle Googling that I found out that she’s married to Courtney Barnett (see My Favorite Albums of 2015), and that the album was about how hard being married to a musician is. It was a similar glass-shattering moment. Suddenly I could hear the lyrics perfectly. Check out the beautiful lyrics of the album opener, “Forgot Myself”:
You’d been gone so long you could have been dead
Piles of books you bought but never read
Paint a still life of your side of the bed
4. BNQT – Volume 1
Supergroup. If this band/album escaped you, here’s the lowdown: it’s the lead singers of Band of Horses, Franz Ferdinand, Grandaddy, Travis, and Midlake. The vibe is early 70s rock and it’s fantastic. One day while listening to the album a co-worker of mine would call out tracks that were likely spiritual inspiration for each track we had just listened to. Think America. Think Eagles. The bands, not a sense of nationalism.
5. Kevin Morby – City Music
I must be going soft as I get older. Soft rock. It’s a genre I couldn’t stand as a teenager, but have definitely come to appreciate. There’s a quote from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss that’s stuck with me: “A poet is a musician who can’t sing.” Kevin Morby, to me, is a poet who can sing. I’d go on, but NPR has an article where Morby breaks down the album track by track; so there’s no topping that.
6. Sorority Noise – You’re Not As _____ As You Think
I hope you like your punk depressing and struggling with depression itself. I thought last year’s album by Modern Baseball was a heavy hitter, but this album is much more open and uncomfortable. Take the track Disappeared, for example:
Just this year I lost a basketball team to heaven
And I’m sure they’re shooting jumpers
With Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
On the face of it, this is a comical lyric. But once you realize that “basketball team” is a unit of measure for how many of his friends have died within the past year, it’s pretty sobering. That said, it’s still pretty catchy and that’s a feat for a song that includes lyrics like, “I’ll daydream of the noose that took my friend Sean’s life.”
7. Real Estate – In Mind
Like I said, I thought this was going to be the best album this year after I first heard it. It’s overwhelmingly pleasant. I heard the album play in full at an Austin eatery no more than two months after it came out, and I’ve heard tracks from it play in several establishments since. I think “Serve the Song” is getting radio play, and it’s an excellent track, but my favorite is “Two Arrows” and that’s the track I recommend if you only give this album one chance/song to turn you on.
8. JD McPherson – UNDIVIDED HEART & SOUL
When did Rockabilly get this good? Sure, I like Reverend Horton Heat as much as the next Texan, but their albums aren’t topping any of my lists even if I went back and made “My Favorite Album” lists for the 90s. If you don’t think you like Rockabilly, check out “HUNTING FOR SUGAR.” If you do like Rockabilly, check out “STYLE (IS A LOSING GAME).” On a side note, what’s with artists putting all their tracks in all-caps this year? DAMN.
9. The Horrors – V
Do you like Depeche Mode? You’re going to like The Horrors. I know you’ve already “fallen for that” when people said the same thing about Remy Zero or Orgy, but those people were wrong for saying that. Out of the related artists section on Spotify, I agree with DIIV and Slowdive; but I really feel like Depeche Mode is a better analogue. If you don’t feel the same way after listening to “Machine” or “Hologram,” then our ears must be radically different from each others’s.
10. Tennis – Yours Conditionally
In 2012 I discovered Tennis and their completely solid album Young & Old. In 2013, their EP Small Sound made that year’s list (though the follow-up album Ritual In Repeat did not). Yours Conditionally came three years later and it’s a return to form. Inventive indie pop with strong vocals. Several great bedroom pop albums came out this year, but for my money Alaina Moore is a better vocalist than Jay Som’s Melina Duterte or Laetitia Tamko/Vagabon (who both put out some stellar tracks this year).